As former prime minister Julia Gillard AC (left) and Deputy Leader of the Labor Party Tanya Plibersek take their place in front of the camera, one thing is getting in the way of nailing the shot: the pair won’t stop chattering. “We always have so much to catch up on … family, holidays, books!” says Gillard after the shoot, which took place in the library of her former stomping ground, the University of Adelaide.
The duo first met in 1998, when they were both elected to federal parliament. “Back then we were pushed to be competitors, but Julia and I never accepted the idea that there was a limited number of places for women in leadership positions,” says Plibersek. Adds Gillard, “It doesn’t mean that we were on the same side of every political debate, but we always had a strong respect for each other.”
That respect grew into staunch support during political turmoil. “I don’t think it’s any secret that as prime minister I went through some very hard days,” says Gillard. “When the sexist remarks started flying at me, I wondered if I was reading something into it and making it about gender. It was very reassuring to have Tanya alongside me saying, ‘No, you are reading it right, it is about you being the first woman to lead Australia. She was terrific at that.”
Plibersek admits she looks back on that period with a tinge of regret – “I wish I’d been more direct in calling out the sexism earlier; it didn’t peter out as I thought it would” – but had chosen to ignore it and let Gillard’s talents do the talking. “Did you know that when she did her famous misogyny speech she only had half-a-dozen words scribbled down? It was completely off the cuff!” she marvels. “Julia is incredibly quick, funny and warm.”
The admiration between the friends goes both ways. “Tanya’s example of combining work and family life is something that impresses and intrigues people,” comments Gillard. “My personal journey was obviously a very different one, but I think she’s an incredible role model for women who want to have kids, who want to be great mothers, but also really want to show the world what they can do in their careers.”
The pair are emphatic about the importance of women supporting women – noting that the Labor party is well on its way to meeting its target of 50 per cent female MPs by 2025 – but say that these days their catch-ups are more likely to revolve around pasta than politics. “We have a glass of wine, a good laugh and a home-cooked meal – well, I like cooking [but] Julia doesn’t,” says Plibersek with a laugh. “It’s always very relaxed and fun.”
Read the full story in the April issue of Marie Claire, out now.